SCOTLAND’S councils are set to get a raft of new powers and protections after SNP ministers backed a Green plan to roll-back centralisation. 

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell today confirmed the Scottish Government would support Andy Wightman’s bill to give councils European-style safeguards.

The Green MSP wants to incorporate the European Charter of Local Self-Government into Scots law.

The change would allow councils to raise court challenges if ministerial actions or Holyrood laws were considered incompatible with the charter.

Created in 1985 by the Council of Europe, and ratified by the UK in 1997, the charter sets out 10 principles to protect the basic powers of councils and their political, administrative and financial independence.

It says local authority powers should be “full and exclusive”, not “undermined or limited by another, central or regional, authority except as provided for by the law”.

In a further protection against centralisation of power at Holyrood, the charter says public responsibilities should generally lie with authorities “closest to the citizen”. 

Council boundaries are also given greater protection, with any changes predicated on prior consultation with local communities, “possibly by means of a referendum”.

The charter would also enshrine the principle of local government in Scots law - at present councils could, in theory, simply be dissolved if ministers decided to do it.

The Charter says “the principle of local self-government shall be recognised in domestic legislation, and where practicable in the constitution”. 

The Charter effectively gives councils a long-sought power of general competence, with “full discretion to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter” not explicitly ruled out by law.

It would also reduce the ringfencing of government funds, by ensuring grants to councils are, as far  as possible, not “earmarked for the financing of specific projects”.

Councils would be entitled to “adequate financial resources of their own” based on resources “of a sufficiently diversified and buoyant nature to enable them to keep pace as far as practically possible with the real evolution of the cost of carrying out their tasks”.

Mr Wightman said the Scottish Government had initially appeared sceptical about his Bill, but it was backed by the council umbrella body Cosla and others.

Ms Campbell has now told MSPs: “My cabinet colleagues and I are satisfied that the government can now express support for this bill.”

Mr Wightman: “I welcome this change in tone from the Scottish Government. 

“Bringing Scotland’s local democracy into line with most normal European nations should have happened long before now, and the evidence given to the committee by experts has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Scotland’s power has been too centralised. I look forward to working with all parties as the bill progresses to protect the political, administrative and financial independence of local government to work in the interests of our communities.”

Cosla president Alison Evison added: “I am absolutely delighted to hear the news that the Scottish Government will support Andy Wightman’s European Charter for Local Self Government Bill.

“The Bill is key to building on local and national government’s joint commitment to improve outcomes and renew democratic participation across Scotland so the support of Scottish Government is great news.

"I would also like to pay tribute to Andy Wightman for his relentless efforts with this. 

“Cosla has been dogged in its support for the principles contained within this Bill because they will strengthen the status and standing of Local Government in Scotland and thereby increase the involvement of local people in shaping the communities in which they live.  

“It will also bring us into line with other European Countries – this is a good day for democracy in Scotland, a good day for our Communities and a good day for Cosla and Scottish Local Government.”